Great Leadership and Greek Proverbs 

Have you ever questioned whether after a long tenure in your job there is little else to discover about the role? Do you ever wonder if, professionally, you’ve hit a wall? I confess that at the start of 2020, with over a decade as Pfizer’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, I harbored reservations that there was little else for me to learn at the office.  

Then the pandemic hit. And just as many businesses hunkered down, Pfizer geared up. My boss, Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla, set an audacious goal: that we deliver a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 within the year. Albert’s ambition to, in his words, “make the impossible possible” would demand that we crush all previous time frames, break every convention, and move with lightspeed. It was truly a moonshot moment.

The first thing Albert did was appoint himself the project manager. As anyone who has ever worked at a large company knows, this kind of personal accountability and leadership is rare. In the months that followed, it would prove critical.  

Albert knew that against the backdrop of a global pandemic, and with the introduction of a novel, never-before-approved technology my skills of communication and coalition-building would be key. I took my seat at the table in the figurative “room where it happened” alongside brilliant and devoted scientists, manufacturing experts, regulatory experts, and other key players. The team met several times a week, Albert always at the helm of the session. 

Our pursuit of the vaccine was the most purposeful time in my career. Suddenly, I was learning and growing again. I stretched myself and built muscles in focus, risk-taking, and problem-solving. Many factors contributed to our success, but none more than the vision and tenacity of our CEO.  

I often wish everyone could have a view of Albert’s leadership up close and personal. Now you can. On March 8, Albert’s first-person account will be published under the title, Moonshot: Inside Pfizer’s Nine-Month Race to Make the Impossible Possible. His intimate, fast-paced storytelling will take readers into his thoughts and emotions during that tumultuous time.  

I’ll keep this book close at hand as a reminder of all I’ve learned. The narrative is organized chronically with a chapter title and corresponding Greek proverb — a nod to Albert’s strong self-identity — to summarize the lesson. Each is meaningful, but I have two favorites.

First, the preface, “Luck Never Comes to the Unprepared” (“Excellence is never an accident. It represents the wise choice of many alternatives — choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”) I especially appreciate this point. Pfizer didn’t find a vaccine by chance. It may be amazing, but it isn’t a miracle. The ability to discover, manufacture, and distribute a vaccine against this vicious virus was the result of decades of painstaking preparation, hard work, and trial and error. Such is the journey of science and the path that any bold innovation must travel.

Second, Chapter Three, “Thinking Big Makes the Impossible Possible”(“Our problem is not that we aim too high and miss, but we aim too low and hit). The sheer breathtaking beauty of holding such a bold view of possibilities is my single greatest takeaway from our work during the pandemic. It’s an honor and joy to be a part of such a moonshot. You see it in the faces of Olympic athletes, astronauts, and anyone who has ever attempted a feat that shatters previous accomplishments. 

I encourage you to enjoy Albert’s book and revel in the knowledge that you will be ready to spread your wings when your time comes. 

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